“Gleaners” by James Goldberg

It is dark. Tomás is breathing slow, steady. Asleep. Isabel slips out of bed and down to the place on the banks of the Samalá where the gleaners meet.

The night is clear and warm. It’s been dry all July. Hot east winds have shriveled the stalks in the welfare milpas. To think they used to call this the wet season. When the rains do come, they won’t be steady. They will be sudden, violent. They will tear the earth away and wash it down the river. Isabel has watched it happen too many times. Watched the waters choke what parched little plants are left in church gardens. All that work, year after year, for a harvest of dust. Callouses on the hands aren’t enough to keep food in the belly anymore.

That’s why the stake called the gleaners. Because it’s a sin to let children starve.

Tonight they’re going for maize. Over the next hill, there are fields and fields full of it. RenTech crops. None of it feeds anybody: day laborers carry it straight into micro-refineries. All those self-driving cars and air taxis up north won’t power themselves. With oil reserves running low, it’s no surprise that agros turned to places like Guatemala—husks of countries, hit hard by climate change. The rich countries know how to wring every last drop of blood out of a stone.

Once Rosalina arrives, the sisters get going. The fields are ninety minutes away on foot, but they keep hymns in their hearts as they walk and walk, like pioneer children. Even if there was still a truck around to borrow, it’s too risky. Brother Kan is sitting in a jail cell and Isabel’s best guess as to why is that some of the agros put in sensors under the roads to monitor traffic. She can’t figure out how else they’d have found his Toyota so fast. Better to keep light as a deer, carry the food back in simple bags. They spread out when they get close, and they keep off the road, just in case.

The gathering happens in a tense quiet. Move, pick, wait. Keep your head low in case of passing drones. Look out for lights. Listen for boots in the distance. Think of the ward’s kids, home asleep on their mats and in their beds. Move, pick. Move, pick. Sparse and careful. The trick is not to leave any trace big enough to register on their spreadsheets. If they don’t notice anything’s missing, they won’t have reason to bring in more security or lean on police.

Isabel works her way through, row by row. It’s still strange to her how she never sees all the water RenTech bought out the rights to. She knows their water harvesting arrays stretch wide in the hills and that their pumps run deep into the vanishing water table, but the earth between the rows is cracked here, same as anywhere. It’s only near the base of each plant that the soil is soft. Just like the kernels hidden within each ear.

It’s like a miracle, how they manage to coax yields like this out of such a broken land. All the skill that must have gone into designing tiny underground irrigation tubes, figuring out just the right spacing for sensors, programming a computer to optimize outputs so that nothing is wasted. It’s like a miracle. All truth comes from God, so he must’ve given the ideas to all those engineers and scientists.

Why couldn’t he have given them a conscience to go with it? All that ingenuity: they could’ve fed the world. There would be enough and to spare if they just grew the food and ate it.

But enough is never enough. Enough is never. Enough is never. The words ring through her head like a drumbeat as she picks her way down the rows. Sparse and careful. Move, pick, wait. Enough is never. Enough is never. Not when there are shiny new toys to play with. In all the movies, science is gleaming metal. Never full bellies for dark-skinned kids.

Enough. Head low; look out for lights. Listen for boots in the distance. Move and pick. Like Alma in the wilderness, hiding from the searches of the king. She’s heard there were days when you could keep the laws of God and the laws of the land. Now, though, it seems like the laws are just another thing the agros own. Another tool to protect their margins.

When will they have enough? Enough is never. Enough is never. She thinks of her cousin Ernesto, dead of heatstroke on a coffee plantation. The law could have been written to say that workers need shade. Water. Bathrooms. Just as the law once said the poor had a right to glean in any field, before the powers in this world decided that the yield is never enough. Never, never, never.

Enough. She feels the weight in her bag. Her muscles will scream their protest by the time she and the other sisters carry their loads back, but it’s been a good night. That weight isn’t just ears of maize. It’s children who will grow strong. Lucia, Israel. Brisa, Alana, Moroni. She can feel it.

She asks God to bless this food, that it will nourish them, body and soul. Let them grow in the gospel. Let them grow in discernment. Let them learn when enough is enough. The east winds blow drier every year, but a better generation can make even a desert blossom as a rose.

For now, she keeps her head low. Out of sight of any cameras. Isabel and the gleaners slip back to the bishop’s storehouse with their loads of hope, slip back into beds at home. Tomás is asleep. His breathing steady, slow. It is dark still, but soon enough the morning will break.